We get torn apart by our terminology

Richard Stearns, head of World Vision, wrote a response on a perceived attack on the term “radical Christians.”

This was in response to a Christianity Today piece on the “new radicals.”

Stearns’s response is basic: “Yep, we’re radical, and we’re not radical enough!”

It’s gone back and forth in a way that reminds me of the days when my “tribe” (Pentecostals) were battling the “Name It, Claim It” crowd. Pentecostals believe in healing and pray for healing. But the “faith healers” had taken it to another place and by the time Pentecostals were finished bashing away at the “faith healers” it was almost like we didn’t believe in healing!

It’s starting to sound a bit like that in this argument, and I think it’s a bit silly.

Radicals can be perceived as saying, “If you’re not selling everything you have and going to some unreached part of the world, you’re not serving God!” (And I understand some DO say that, and I find it harmful in that extreme.)

But what comes back in response is, “I have my comfortable life and I WANT this comfortable life, so don’t make me feel guilty for having this comfortable life.” (And that is an extreme, but that’s what it’s beginning to sound like.)

If I want “radical” I turn to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus turns my thinking on its ear and then I’m left to ponder what that means for my life.

We are to be salt and light. If we lose our flavor and our ability to shed light in darkness, we just aren’t Kingdom any more. THAT is radical.

It then boils down to the fight we currently have: “What does that mean?”

Can I have a middle class income (or better) and still live for Jesus?

If I sell all I have and immediately head for the Arab Peninsula to plant a church, am I truly following Jesus?

Those are the kinds of questions that need answering, but if we answer them too quickly, we may find ourselves in trouble. We can quickly dismiss the idea of going somewhere in mission and settle in and think, “This is what God has for me.”

We can obviously pull the trigger too quickly on going overseas to plant a church without realizing the costs, the culture shock, the language barriers, the hardships, etc.

It is in the deliberation we find better answers for each of our lives. This is why the entire Sermon on the Mount is vital. Jesus doesn’t just make a radical statement and leave it. He walks us through how to find the strength of the Kingdom and then hear the voice of the Spirit to act. 

Quite frankly, I have met incredibly solid believers who make great money, live in nice houses, and… wait for it… love Jesus. 

Shocking. I know.

They also look for strategic ways to invest their dollars into mission and ministry. They are incredibly generous people.

Certainly there are those who are comfortable and don’t care to be bothered. But every income bracket has that.

The key is hearing God. 

We can clearly hear God to be in a great career, give our talents in a way that contributes as salt and light in a different way to our culture, and live radically as a follower of Christ. You don’t need to shed nice clothes or start up a funky hair-do to be “radical.”

We can clearly hear God to leave this country and spend the rest of our lives in another place. One of my heroes has given 40 years to the Philippines. He clearly belongs there. When he comes home, he does not begrudge anyone their current situation. He tells the stories of what God is doing in the Philippines, and then gets back there as soon as he can.

My plea here is that we give up the notion of tearing each other apart. We are so good at that in Christianity and somehow I think the Sermon on the Mount points us in a different direction. Namely, we can do better than that. 

Let us hear God. Let us hear God for our situation. And let us be OBEDIENT to God in OUR situation.

The Dream in My Heart

This particular article by Richard Stearns captures the dream that has been stirring in my heart. I only wish I had been able to find a way to act on the stirring as well as the pastor in the story.

But that dream is still there. I’ve known in my heart the shift that has been happening and I’ve known to prepare my church, but in the past two months the stirring I can’t get away from is this huge dream to “own” a country. I’ve been praying and asking about which particular country, but the dream is very much like this pastor’s dream. Change a nation. The how doesn’t even bother me. This story gives me some great ideas, and I’m grateful.

Yet this dreams bursts in my heart. Our church is called to change a nation. Another nation. Some would argue, “Why not THIS nation?” I can’t argue that. I just know I am called to pastor my city and “own” some nation somewhere. In the next 20 years some nation is going to be radically different because our church stepped up in prayer and action. Like this pastor did with Lesotho.

Help me dream. Help me ACT.

Lord, stir this up into reality.

Book Review — The Hole in Our Gospel

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.

Part autobiography, part biblical challenge, Stearns wants to raise our awareness to the needs of the poor in the world. More than that, he wants us to realize the amazing resources we already have at our disposal that would alleviate a lot of suffering, but we are sitting on our resources rather than using for the good of the Kingdom.

Stearns was a very successful CEO in the corporate world when World Vision came calling in 1998. They asked him to be president, leaving behind a very wealthy opportunity in his company. Stearns had been challenged along the way to do more for the gospel and for the poor in this world. After refusing the job, he ended up taking it and has led World Vision for the past 11 or 12 years.

The biblical challenge is clear. There is a need to bring justice to the poor of this world. There are solutions that can be brought to the poor through the Church. Yet, the American Church sits on incredible resources and does very little. Stearns’ statistics are bone-jarring. American Christians gave less to the Church in 2005 as a percentage of income than they did in 1931 during the Great Depression.

The book is not just a challenge to give. It is to open our eyes to the needs of the world. It doesn’t take billions of dollars to make a difference. It just takes each believer stepping up and doing something that will reach beyond their own world.

There are a couple of observations that bother me somewhat. First, Stearns had the luxury of moving from CEO to World Vision. His future is secure. In one sense, it is easy for a millionaire to talk to others about giving. A lot of talk I hear about stepping up to give comes from people of means. I do not mean this to be completely critical of Stearns. He sacrifices in his way. But these stories of Jesus dealing with people to make life changes seem to come from the top end of the pay scale.

The second observation is his examples of good churches and bad churches. He is very critical of American churches, but really only hits on the megachurches. He came from a megachurch as a member and probably attends a megachurch when he is home. He sees the massive wealth of those congregations and gets fed up with them spending it on themselves.

The “good” examples come from small churches… in Africa. He doesn’t find any good examples of small churches in America. I pastor a small church in America. Am I lumped in with the megachurches? How can I successfully answer the call to reach the poor of the world in my context? He doesn’t really address that.

Again, those are not meant to be overly critical. I am challenged by this book. I am all too aware of what is happening in this world and desire to see small incremental changes by every believer. If every believer WOULD make small incremental changes in their giving and focus, we could tackle some HUGE problems for villages in poorer parts of the world.